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Federal Resources to Boost New Mexico’s K-12 Cybersecurity | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

(TNS) — New Mexico schools will have access to new tools to fend off cybersecurity threats.

Representatives from the state Department of Information Technology, Public Education Department, Higher Education Department and the Governor’s Office recently met with White House National Cyber Director Harry Coker Jr. to discuss strategies to improve cybersecurity efforts.

During the Friday meeting in Santa Fe, Coker announced New Mexico’s K-12 schools will have access to a raft of new tools at little to no cost.

“The insights shared, and the resources highlighted during this event will empower our schools to enhance their cybersecurity measures,” Public Education Secretary Arsenio Romero said in a statement after the meeting. “We are collaborating with federal partners and leveraging these tools to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for every student in New Mexico.”

For many New Mexico residents, cyber attacks have been striking closer and closer to home, with recent attacks targeting district attorney offices, health care providers and hotels.

In recent years, cyber attackers have increasingly targeted schools, especially after the coronavirus pandemic increased reliance on infrastructure for online education, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found in a 2022 study. The attacks resulted in the release of sensitive information — such as protected student data and school security protocols — as well as up to three weeks of lost learning time, the agency said in a report.

In April, one such cyber attack hit close to Santa Fe: A ransomware attack — in which attackers use malicious software essentially to hold data hostage and insist victims pay to get it back — rocked New Mexico Highlands University, threatening the college’s cybersecurity defenses and canceling more than a week of classes.

“The Office of Cybersecurity is working to secure state funds to combat these threats,” Chief Information Security Officer Raja Sambandam said in a statement. “It’s crucial that we work with stakeholders to protect systems and data. That’s why we’re raising awareness of this vital federal resource for local schools.”

The federal government will provide a new cybersecurity guide for educational institutions, access to information technology experts, free membership to a multistate cybersecurity center and a service to block computers from connecting to malicious domains, among other benefits, Coker announced during Friday’s meeting.

Renee Narvaiz, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Information Technology, wrote in an email she could not say whether the benefits will be extended to colleges and universities. However, she added, her agency is working with the Higher Education Department to strengthen cyber defenses statewide.

The move is part of a broader push by the federal government. In a National Cybersecurity Strategy released in March 2023, the Biden administration vowed to “rebalance the responsibility to defend cyberspace,” shifting the duty of security away from individuals, small businesses and local governments and toward state and federal government agencies and industry officials best suited to reduce the risk of cyber attacks.

That applies to schools, too. During the meeting, Coker said school administrators shouldn’t be responsible for defending cyberspace in addition to their day-to-day duty to provide education to students.

“We are here to help — help schools with resources that can provide protection in the short term, and help alleviate the larger challenges that put them at risk in the long term,” Coker said.

©2024 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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